Tech Behind the Gear: Blauer® ArmorSkin™ and StreetShirt™
What is it that makes the system so unique?
The following is paid content sponsored by Blauer
By Greg Bogosian, PoliceOne Staff
External carriers have been around for quite a few years now, but when Stephen Blauer looked at all of the options available on the market, he noticed that a few key features seemed to be universally missing. All of the offerings had common problems; for example, they relied upon removing the soft and hard armor components from their manufacturer’s carrier and inserting them into what in essence was just a loose nylon shell, meaning that the components could shift out of place during normal movement, compromising effectiveness. Most, as well, were constructed in a way which provided at best a markedly different appearance from the normal uniform look, which meant many administrators were not keen upon authorizing them as a daily-wear option.
With many officers hesitant to wear their concealed armor carriers due to comfort and overheating concerns, and an upcoming Federal mandate that officers wear their armor full-time in order for an agency to receive matching funds on armor purchases, Stephen began to look into the creation of a better option for external carriers. After years of research, testing, re-engineering, and re-testing, he developed a solution which solved all of the above problems and more: the ArmorSkin carrier, paired with the StreetShirt undershirt and an innovative suspension system.
So what is it that makes the system so unique, and why is it such an improvement over previous offerings by other manufacturers? Let’s begin by looking at the ArmorSkin carrier component.
The first thing that you’ll notice as you look at it is that it’s made to look exactly like a standard Class B uniform shirt, constructed from the same fabric as those shirts, and with the same tailoring and styling details, including functional pockets with “Napoleon” (side) openings as well as from the top - in essence creating two pockets in one. Blauer went through many fabric product samples and scientifically tested each until they came up with a combination of materials and interlinings which resist wrinkling, pilling, and abrasion exceptionally well. The final fabric choices are backed by a second fabric for internal abrasion resistance, which is attached to the uniform fabric via thermoplastic adhesion (heat-pressing) for durability. Fabrics in critical areas of the ArmorSkin also have anti-microbial properties.
Next is the manner in which the carrier holds the body armor components. Rather than having a loose container into which the panels are slipped, the ArmorSkin carrier is designed to encase an officer’s existing concealed armor carrier, including allowing for use of the Velcro shoulder and side straps which came with it. This has several benefits, including maintaining the torso coverage area which the armor was designed to protect by holding it in the placement that it was manufactured be in (back-overlapping-front or front-overlapping-back). Assisting in this is the fact that the carrier is offered in half-sizes, with a 2” incremental increase in chest size between them. This also ensures that the armor cannot be easily removed in a struggle with an assailant, a benefit which is further reinforced by the fact that the side closure for the ArmorSkin is secured with high-quality Delrin zippers rather than Velcro. For officer maneuverability and tactical safety, the zippers are attached to side panels, which are constructed of a breathable mesh material that stretches in 4 directions. Simply unfasten one side zipper for easy donning and doffing, or you can quickly open the side for additional ventilation if needed without compromising the vest’s placement on the body.
The interior of the garment is lined with a breathable, abrasion-resistant mesh material to aid in heat dissipation from the body… always a concern for officers, but especially so in warmer climates and during summer months. This material also has anti-microbial properties for hygienic enhancement. Sewn securely to the interior are guide straps for the duty-belt suspension system, which will be talked about in more detail later in this article.
Small details show the high level of engineering which went into the carrier, as well, such as 4 different binding materials used in the construction of seams depending on their function: for example, the shoulder seam material is stretchable for movement and ease of body armor carrier strap pass-through, and the bottom hem is made from abrasion-resistant material (especially important with officers who choose to use a Velcro duty belt). The bottom of the garment in front and back has a “soft” edge which flexes below the armor for comfort while seated. The armholes are tapered to fit directly around the arm without gapping in coverage. There is a built-in mic tab centrally placed on the front placket, and a removable fabric tab attaches between two buttons on the front of the carrier to secure a tie bar if desired. Finally, in a nod to the engineering of Blauer’s popular SuperShirt, the pockets feature deployable reflective material for enhanced visibility when needed (remaining concealed when not).
StreetShirt: Design and Construction
Now, for the second component of this system: let’s take a look at the StreetShirt.
This unique undershirt complements the ArmorSkin carrier by completing the look of a regular uniform shirt in both short- and long-sleeve configurations while maintaining a hidden benefit of enhanced heat dissipation and comfort. The arms, underarms, top placket, and collar are all made from the same standard uniform fabric (minus the thermoplastic lining fabric, as it is not needed here) as the carrier itself, and are designed to match the appearance of a regular uniform shirt: the long-sleeve version has a banded collar with collar stays and a 2-button sleeve, the short-sleeve version has a convertible sport collar, and both feature buttons on the placket. Sleeves accept a crease and patches, and the collars may be pressed. The epaulets were engineered to have a wide enough opening to pass a standard portable mic through without difficulty, for those officers who choose to do so.
From the mid-chest down, however, the shirt is constructed entirely of a breathable, stretchable, anti-microbial mesh material. This material is also abrasion-resistant for durability. The heat release and comfort afforded by this configuration greatly aid in preventing hyperthermia (a dangerous medical condition characterized by the body’s core temperature being too high) on the part of the officer, and offer an increased range of motion for tactical safety while still maintaining a professional appearance. One Massachusetts officer reported that he wore the configuration for 5 weeks before anyone at the agency noticed that it was not simply a regular uniform shirt. Again, as with the popular SuperShirt, the StreetShirt features deployable reflective material on the underside of the back of the collar, and inside the sleeves, which are not visible unless intentionally exposed by the officer.
Integratable Suspension System
Finally, let’s talk about the duty-belt suspension system which integrates into the system.
This system is designed and engineered specifically to work with an officer’s duty belt and with the ArmorSkin carrier. Featuring an “X” configuration – with the “X” between the officer’s shoulder blades – the ballistic nylon straps feature both macro-level and micro-level adjustment points on each front strap for balance, length, and comfort, and quick-release detachment buckles on all straps for easy donning and doffing mid-shift if needed. The system attaches unobtrusively to officers’ existing belt keepers through the use of carefully designed loops at the end of the strap, which the keepers easily slide through. The loops’ construction and materials were designed to keep them in place once attached, as they grip onto the sides of the keeper itself. Adjustable, long shoulder pads complete the system, and slide freely on the straps to ensure motion is not unnaturally restricted.
The suspension system slides through well-placed loops at the shoulders, back, and front of the ArmorSkin carrier to keep the armor in-place while utilizing it, and is fully adjustable for balance and comfort across a wide variety of body types. By removing the weight from the officers’ hips and spine, and balancing the load of the duty gear, the system can both alleviate back and hip pain, and can help to prevent injuries from occurring both short- and long-term.
When combined, the Blauer ArmorSkin carrier, the StreetShirt, and the suspension system tackle all of the initial problems mentioned in this article and more, while retaining a professional look that complies with even the strictest uniform codes. Through careful engineering, scientific testing, research, and feedback from actual officers on the street, the family-run Blauer company has succeeded in creating the first truly integrated external carrier and shirt system which will keep officers cooler, more comfortable, and safer while on the streets protecting their communities.